Cashing in those unwanted gift cards

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Gift cards really are a go-to gift, but sometimes they may not be for use at a retailer or restaurant you like. (WPVI)

Gift cards have ballooned into a $32 billion-a-year business. According to a Consumer Reports survey, about half of shoppers said they planned to buy one this year, so chances are you got one as a gift this holiday season. But what if it's a card you don't want?

Gift cards really are a go-to gift, but sometimes they may not be for use at a retailer or restaurant you like. Now there are a number of places where you can exchange or sell unwanted gift cards.

One way to get rid of gift cards - trade them for cash at one of the many gift card exchange websites out there. Consumer Reports' Tod Marks looked at four of them.

Marks explains, "These websites buy your cards at less than face value and then resell them. That means you'll get less, sometimes a lot less than they're worth at the store."

For example, a $100 Toys R Us gift card gets $80.50 at Giftcards.com, but shrinks to $50 at Monstergiftcard.com.

Marks says, "We looked at 13 different store gift cards in our experiment, and Giftcards.com gave us the most money overall. However, you cannot count on any one site to give you top dollar for each and every card, so it pays to shop around."

You'll generally get more cash back for gift cards from popular retailers. With Walmart, a $100 gift card gets you around $90 at all the sites Consumer Reports checked.

Another option: You can get cash right away at Coinstar Exchange kiosks found in stores throughout the country. But you may not get as much money back as you would have on the websites. A $100 Walmart card gets only $71 here.

Giving a bank gift card makes it easier for the person who gets it.

"If they carry the logo of Master Card, Visa, American Express, or Discover, they can be redeemed at any merchant that accepts those cards," Marks said.

Keep in mind that those bank gift cards usually cost four to six dollars to purchase. So that's a cost to keep in mind if you're thinking about giving gift cards this holiday season.
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